Coming off his Grammy-nominated 2013 album, The World According to Andy Bey, vocalist/pianist Andy Bey delivers the equally compelling 2014 release Pages from an Imaginary Life. As with its predecessor, Pages finds the jazz iconoclast returning to his roots with a set of American Popular Song standards done in a ruminative, stripped-down style. This is Bey, alone at the piano, delving deeply into the harmony, melody, and lyrics of each song. But don't let the spare setting fool you. Bey is a master of interpretation. In his seventies at the time of recording, and having performed over the years in a variety of settings from leading his own swinging vocal trio, to working with hard bop pioneer Horace Silver, to exploring the avant-garde with Archie Shepp, Bey has aged into a jazz oracle who doesn't so much perform songs as conjure them from somewhere in the mystical ether of his psyche.
Criminally overlooked by academics, critics and purists who refuse to listening to anything outside of conventional jazz vernacular, Andy Bey's delivery on Experience and Judgment goes beyond anything he previously committed to tape, revealing a spiritual side that's punched up and supported by a jazz-funk ensemble. The album's opener "Celestial Blues" finds Bey delivering lines that wouldn't be out of place on Bill Withers records from this era, and the remainder of the album sounds similar to the works of such contemporaries as Roy Ayers and Gil Scott-Heron. It's soul soothing music that's been played with great reverence by the rare soul and funk community for years and rightly so, as Bey captures the essence of the soul world brilliantly, and fuses it into something that is uniquely his own.
Although the vocal trio Andy Bey & the Bey Sisters lasted 11 years, it wasn't as well documented as it should have been. The trio, which consisted of Andy Bey and his sisters Geraldine and Salome, was formed in 1956 and broke up in 1967 – and during that 11-year period, they only recorded three albums. The first was provided for RCA Victor in 1961, and the other two, Now! Hear! and 'Round Midnight, were recorded for Prestige in 1964 and 1965, respectively. In late 2000, those two Prestige dates were reissued on this excellent CD.
Wow, we never thought we'd see this one reissued! But then again, Bey's had a nice comeback these days, and his work from the past more than deserves another look. Andy Bey was originally a member of the jazz group Andy & The Bey Sisters – but by this time, he'd gone solo, and had done vocals on righteous political albums by Gary Bartz and Horace Silver. The groove here is nice and jazzy, with some funky stuff thrown in, and Andy's voice has a weird off-kilter sound that's very hard to describe, but which is extremely haunting!
Andy Bey remains what he was back when this album first took shape—the most recognized, and perhaps the most recognizable, member of the Bey family. A fearsomely gifted singer, he boasts spectacular range all but disguised by the warmth and immediacy of his vocal instrument…Because of his prominence in the trio, Andy and the Bey Sisters often falls into the category of origin bands—the trio that launched Andy Bey’s career…